Published April 19, 2013
Darwinson Valdez figures he shaved $200 off the cost of textbooks this semester. Yet unlike his peers, some who don’t buy textbooks at all due their cost, the cash-strapped senior acquired everything his professors asked him to read.
Valdez is enrolled in a new UB Libraries program that makes electronic textbooks, also known as e-textbooks or digital textbooks, available to hundreds of students at no cost. The effort, which has the potential to save students money and boost their grades, reflects changing dynamics that make it easier for university libraries to provide textbooks to students.
“Some students simply cannot afford to buy all the textbooks required for their classes,” says H. Austin Booth, vice provost for university libraries. “The e-textbook initiative has the potential to make education at UB more affordable and improve student learning and success at the same time.”
UB Libraries launched the program last fall by offering e-textbooks for five courses. Roughly 800 students participated. It switched gears this semester, opening the program to roughly 300 students in the university’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which supports students who have educational, economic or personal hardships.
Valdez doesn’t consider himself disadvantaged; however, his parents divorced when he was young. With his mother as his sole caretaker, Valdez grew up in the Dominican Republic and the Bronx before landing at UB, where he is majoring in political science and philosophy.
He signed up for the e-textbook program this semester and liked what he saw. UB Libraries buys access to the textbooks and makes them available to students online via computer, tablet, smartphone or e-reader.
“A lot of the books that I needed were available,” Valdez says. “I think I probably saved $200 this semester.”
Other students in the program could save even more money, Booth adds.
According to a 2008 report from the New York State Comptroller’s Office, freshmen in New York’s public colleges and universities pay $400 to $800 each semester for textbooks. Other studies suggest that 70 percent of college students have, at some point, decided against purchasing a textbook due to its cost, and that 15 percent do not buy textbooks at all.
Traditionally, UB Libraries has played a marginal role in the provision of textbooks to students. The multiple copies needed, combined with high prices and frequent new editions, made the practice cost-prohibitive, Booth explains. E-textbooks offer an alternative, she says, essentially allowing students to “rent” access to textbooks instead of buying them.
UB Libraries will offer the program for the next academic year and, afterward, prepare a report based upon ongoing surveys that seek to determine how useful it is, Booth says. So far, student opinion is mixed. Some enjoy e-textbooks, while others struggle to remain focused when reading from the computer.
The e-textbook program is part of the “3 E Fund”—the “3 E’s” stand for excellence, engagement and efficiency—a competitive program created by President Satish K. Tripathi to spur collaborative initiatives that will advance UB’s international stature and student experience. The grant program, which funds everything from bioinformatics research to creating a center for excellence in writing, aims to make UB one of the nation’s premier public research universities. It is supported by new revenue generated from SUNY’s rational tuition program.
“We are committed to making UB a top-tier research university that provides its students a world-class education,” says A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost for academic affairs. “And we’re also committed to making that educational experience affordable, especially for financially disadvantaged students.”